The Rockland Boulders opened up their 2017 campaign Thursday evening with an impressive 9-3 win at home against the Sussex Country Miners. There was a familiar face on the mound as veteran lefty Richard Salazar, 35, was voted to open up the season for the ball club. That’s right, voted.
Through a social media event that has never been done before in professional baseball, manager Jamie Keefe announced three starting pitchers and then let an online vote by the fans dictate who the team would give the ball to for Opening Day.
And the fans absolutely nailed it as Salazar edged out Bo Budkevics and Markus Solbach to win Opening Day rights. After an impressive season last year where the southpaw went 10-6 with a 3.31 ERA, Salazar picked up exactly where he left off pitching 5- innings of 2- run ball and leaving the game up to the bullpen with a five run lead.
This will be the Venezuelan native’s fourth season in Rockland, and the first full season where he will double as the team’s ace and pitching Coach. With about a month left in last season’s campaign the team separated ways with then pitching coach Bobby Jones, and gave their veteran ace, Salazar a chance to fill two roles.
“He’s great, he knows how to pitch. He’s not a thrower, he’s a crafty pitcher. He spots the ball and changes speeds” said Boulders Executive Vice President and General Manager Shawn Reilly.
For Salazar, it’s something he cherishes and proud that he is respected enough by the front office and his teammates to assume such a role. “It’s more work, but it’s fun” said Salazar with a grin on his face, “I’m able to teach the guys everything that I’ve learned over the years from the great pitching coaches I’ve had in the past.”
Salazar jokingly continued to add that his pitching career will last as long as his wife, who is back in his native Venezuela with his children, will allow him to play. However after he is done taking the ball every fifth day, Salazar would like to continue to build his resume as a coach with hopes at the highest level possible.
As far as hitting was concerned, the Boulders showed no rust at the plate to start the season as seven of their nine starters recorded at least one hit. It was a rough night for Miner’s starting pitcher
Michael Heesch, through six innings allowed eight runs off seven hits.
The biggest hit of the night came in the bottom of the fourth when leadoff hitter Jared McDonald came up clutch with a two out clearing triple with the bases loaded that broke the game wide open and put the Boulders ahead 7-1.
A trio of homeruns by Maloney, Smith, and Regis proved the Boulders are bringing some pop throughout their lineup this season.
Then in his debut for the Boulders former Seattle Mariner, Mayckol Guiape, pitched a perfect 9th inning striking out all three batters he faced.